Monday, April 9, 2012

Fighting Fantasy - A Nostalgia Post

Back when I was a teenager, when being a geek was incredibly uncool, I used to secretly love the Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.

I read this post today and was transported back to the land of nostalgia for a bit.

When FF was around, it was a time when you had to use your brain to imagine a lot of the stuff you read in fantasy or sci-fi books because CGI simply didn't exist back then. I have fond memories of these books, and a strong sense of being immersed in the worlds that they portrayed. I particularly enjoyed the artwork, which helped accentuate the immersion, produced by the likes of Brian Bolland (of 2000AD) and Ian McGaig (co-designer of Darth Maul).

What was great was the fact that each title wasn't always the same stuff each time – they often strayed into other, more interesting genres such as superheroes or horror.

Ironically, I was actually more interested in the books as books rather than playing them as solo roleplaying games. I did read them, but more often than not tended to flick through, savour the artwork and then put them on them shelf with the intention of playing them at some point in the future. I was the kind of kid who rarely looked at instruction manuals, so never got into playing the books the way you were supposed to. I think I was a bit intimidated by the seemingly-complicated scoresheets you had to do every time you played. Usually, I omitted using dice, thus playing in 'invincible' mode defeating every creature I came across, which kind of missed the point.

I had pretty much every book up until the late 80s, which is when I decided it was all a bit sad and regrettably threw them away.

I'm a bit annoyed at my younger self for not giving the books the attention they deserved. I really should have played them more and taken the time and effort to succeed. I would have been happier about throwing them out if they were falling apart due to overuse, but sadly they were mostly in pristine condition.

I was also into a magazine called Proteus, which was a short-lived fantasy magazine that worked on the same principle as FF, but in a shorter format. It didn't last very long, but I remember again spending more time looking at the artwork than actually playing the games!

Interestingly, Fighting Fantasy was not the first to introduce the idea of 'interactive fiction'. Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) was an American series of books which started back in 1975. Once they were picked up by a major publisher in 1979, they went on to become incredibly successful.

From what I can remember, I don't think these books had a fighting system like FF so it was far simpler to pick them up and start playing. I  had a few of these books and because they were much shorter than Fighting Fantasy managed to complete most of them. They weren't limited to fantasy or science fiction, though, and were typically about solving crimes or mysteries. I do have vivid recollections of the stories being quite gruesome in some places, and found them a bit scary (ironically, moreso than FF). That, and the fact that the cover illustrations were completed by inbred mutants (compared to the usually stunning Fighting Fantasy ones), however, meant my allegiance would always lie with Messrs Jackson and Livingstone.

Interestingly, both FF books and CYOA are still around. The latter still have ridiculously bad covers, and some questionably atrocious titles: 'Zombie Penpal' and, er 'War with the Evil Power Master' being prime examples. Fighting Fantasy seem to be going strong still and are very much in the digital age now, with some titles being available as iPhone and iPad apps.

I must say, I'm seriously tempted – just so I can redeem my younger self, of course.

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  1. I remember these too, I'm sure I had a copy of "Forest of Doom" too. Back in the early 80s, I was pretty keen on the Role-playing gaming-world and the FF books were an interesting diversion for those times when there were no friends around to play with.

    1. That was the beauty of those books in that you could play them solo. I remember, however, playing them with my cousin. It was a sort of D&D lite where you the options were strictly laid out before you. Great fun!

  2. Ah yeees! I Sat 'The Citadel Of Chaos' in a Comic Relief charity tabletop sale last week. Took me right back to the microprocessor-free past.